What is really difficult is when you have a student who is riddled with tension, coming from years of study of another instrument, and they cannot approach playing from a base point of relaxation.
Yes, this is tricky. I have found this particuarly difficult with string players, as one side of the body seems to be much tenser than the other, and the musculature very uneven on each side of the body.
And overly developed muscles will not relax – the best thing you can suggest is that they go on a long holiday and NOT PLAY to allow the overbuilt up muscles to weaken and relax. And then you can start again.
I actually think that a good policy for massive changes of harp technique too – as different styles can use different muscles that block the development of the new muscles – they can work against each other (sorry if I’m not explaining this too well).
This is interesting. I’m glad that you posted this David, as my first “french” teacher was a Welshman and his technique was dramatically different from the second teacher “french” teacher that I went to. And I look at other harpists and have found elements of what he taught me – some or the raising is similar to Russian harpists as well as the thumb action, and the flat fingers like Grandjany students, etc etc. But I have neve seen anyone play that plays the same way as I was taught. So, I have wondered what method it really was!
David- I have this theory about speed. Years ago I saw a program on Public Television about Olympic runners. Some were sprinters and others were marathon runners, and a researcher wanted to know why the sprinters could run with these bursts of incredible speed while the marathon runners couldn’t. But the marathon runners had endurance that the sprinters didn’t.
There are two types of muscle fiber, which are refered to as ‘slow twitch’ and ‘fast twitch.’ The slow twitch fiber gives you endurance and the fast twitch gives you speed. We all have both types of fiber, but the proportion will differ from one person to the next. The researcher found that the spinters had a high proportion of fast twitch fiber, while the marathon runners had a preponderance of slow twitch fiber. As I watched the program I thought that if those fibers existed in leg muscles, then they must be in other muscles of the body as well.
There are harpists who are capable of blinding speed. I think it has little or nothing to do with technique, but rather has to do with the type of muscle fiber in their bodies. I usually find that these harpists have a very light sound and are not capable of much volume. Zabelata was this way, and there are half a dozen well known harpists today that I can think of who play the same way. I used to envy the ease with which these people could play so fast, but my thinking changed. A lot of times these people play pieces way too fast and it is almost impossible for them to hold a correct tempo.
I have found for myself that there is an upper limit of speed that I can play, and beyond that, no matter how much I practice a fast piece, it will just start to break down after that. There are one or two pieces that I wish I could play, but which are just not in my muscle structure. I’m sure I’m not alone in that. A typical example of fast twitch technique is the one handed trill. Some people can do one and some people can’t. I know several really fine harpists who have won major competitions who can’t do a one handed trill. So what! All of us who work hard on the harp are capable of being really fine harpists. We’ll just all be different, and that’s not a bad thing.
Quite fascinating. I don’t think that you can forget that playing harp is a physical exercise and also a physical training. Ones physique and natural musculature I’m sure plays a role, as you have pointed out, but also there is the way you “train”.
It is very very easy to “overtrain” over practise, too much loud “hard” playing – either too much practise or too much struggling to be heard over the brass section, and this can lead to a thickening and hardening of the muscles in your hands and make fast playing almost impossible. (Sort of like the Arnie of the harp world!). It can also be the beginning of injuries as “overdeveloped” muscles just can’t relax (if that makes any sense).
That is an excellent point, and there are other aspects of muscle fiber too, whether it is flexible and stretchable or tight, and it can vary from muscle to muscle. When I was dancing I could sit and open my legs out to the side to a very wide angle, but I could not really stretch hamstrings; I could only do splits by stretching the front of the other hip.
I agree as for Zabaleta’s playing, it was very fast and rather light. Not a great tone quality. As for your speed limits, it has a lot to do with practice
Saul- I suspect that you are right. And all the manuel work that I do makes it very difficult to get my fingers in shape when i want to do a recital. Most of the preparation is trying to get my fingers moving again with ease. I basically don’t play for years at a time. Having a good student gets me practicing some, but working up difficult repertoire is just too frustrating because I don’t play all the time. Maybe I need to do hand and finger stretches.
Interesting topic. My physio, and also with the Feldenkrais practitioner I see, have both spoken quite alot about “cross training” how every athlete these days does another sport of set of exercises to counter the ones they are doing in their primary sport. As if you do not, the muscles get thick and hard and inflexible.
The same with harp playing, I have a series of exercises that are the opposite, and work the opposite muscles that one uses when one plays. And yes, they did suggest stretching out the hands and fingers, and massaging the hands too.
I imagine for you also it would be vitally important to “unwind” all the muscles you use in your back and shoulders from standing over a workbench. If that makes sense. Swimming is one of the best, and is gentle, and if it is a heated pool will relax the muscles in general.
Yep, the “Complete Method for the Harp” is by David Watkins, published by Boosey and Hawkes,1972! Although if it is in reprint it may be a different publisher. I suspect you may be able to get it from Holywell…
What does it cover? It starts assuming a complete beginner and has excerises on scales, arpeggios, chords etc. It includes advice on tuning and sitting at the instrument. And interestingly has photos of both flat and curved fingers on the strings.
It includes his suite of Six Pieces – Prelude, Bercuese, Gigue, The Nightingales, Dance and Nocturne. For beginners and playable on lever harp.
Later in the book he also includes his Second Suite for harp – March, Blues Waltz, Nocturne and Rondo.
Does anyone think that in some circumstances you should not change technique? Even if you are having difficulties, injuries etc? Would it be better to maybe just change teachers and stay within the same school, but go back in grades a little to fix your problems?
I’m talking of advanced students, that have already begun professional work – as I have heard it said that you can be “too old” to change and will just destabilise your technique even more.
I’m not expressing a personal
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